FLORENCE — Several Pinal County judges pled their case before the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday for increased security in Pinal County courts.
During the board’s work session, presiding Superior Court judge Robert Carter Olson and several justices of the peace said the need for more security in the courts has existed for years. The supervisors showed support for increased security, and a formal vote will come at a later meeting as the board goes the fiscal year 2013-14 budget process in the coming weeks.
Olson made a proposal to the supervisors, outlining a two-year plan with about $650,000 dedicated to more security. He said the cost would be split between the Superior Court and the justice courts, with no impact to the County’s general fund.
The first-year expense would be $375,000, and another $275,000 would be kicked in the following year. The funds, Olson said, would come from court enhancement fees. He said the courts actually need much more security than that amount of money can provide.
“We don’t think this is the ideal; we think this is a good first step,” he said.
Olson said he and the other judges put forth the proposal with the board’s budget constraints in mind.
The request calls for 1.5 part-time security officers in the Casa Grande and Apache Junction justice courts; one full-time position in Maricopa and Eloy; and a part-time position in Oracle, in addition to security devices like metal detectors and X-ray equipment.
Olson described a recent incident where a defendant “leaped out of his chair” to attack a victim who was testifying as an example of the need for additional security.
At a board meeting last month, County attorney Lando Voyles told the supervisors his deputy attorneys were “literally in fear” due to dangerous episodes in the county courts.
Maricopa justice of the peace Scott Sulley said he’s been concerned about security for nearly a decade.
“We still have the same number of disgruntled people who are off their meds, who just got out of prison, people who hear voices, people who believe they’re members of Homeland Security,” Sulley said. “We all have our own horror stories.”
Marie Lorona, presiding judge at the Eloy justice court, said this isn’t a new concern. She said she’s been behind the bench for 26 years and has always worried about the level of security in Pinal County courts.
“For 26 years, I’ve been knocking at the door and asking for security,” she said. “In the last month, at the podium, we have found a knife and blade. Now what does that tell us?”
Lorona said anyone in the courtroom is in potential danger from an attack, including judges, clerks and witnesses.
District 1 supervisor Pete Rios asked Roger Valdez, judge in the Casa Grande justice court, if some of the more significant security measures, like metal detectors, were something all the judges agreed were needed.
“The scanning devices would be a necessity,” Valdez said. “It’s something the courts would need in order for security (staff) to do their job.”
District 5 supervisor Todd House said he was made aware of the need for increased security just a few days into his time in office after an incident at the Apache Junction justice court.
Sheriff Paul Babeu talked about the need for additional deputies in the courts as opposed to non-sworn officers due to the training every deputy must complete. He also said the main objective is to get weapons out of the hands of anyone who wants to commit violence prior to their entry into the courtroom, which is why he supports the need for metal detectors, wands and other devices.
Board chairman Steve Miller agreed the most important thing was to remove weapons from the hands of those people before they enter the courtroom. However, he said if those measures are in place, he would be OK with regular security officers instead of sworn deputies.